Fermentation begins after inoculation with yeasts. The primary fermentation converts sugar to alcohol and carbon dioxide. Temperatures during fermentation are maintained reasonably low for the whites and can reach the mid-nineties for the reds. In the reds the higher temperature helps extract the color and complex flavors. Fermentation lasts 7 to 10 days.
Racking is the process of taking relatively clear wine off the sediment at the bottom of barrels or tanks. Sometimes the wine is left on the sediment to achieve more complexity. The reds are racked four times over the 15 to 18 months that the reds are aged in oak. Since the chardonnays are in oak for only four months they are racked twice. The fruitier varieties like Riesling and Gewurztraminer never see oak so that the varietal characterIstics are maintained.
Elk Run uses one and two year old French Allier oak for the chardonnay and then these barrels are rotated into the red program. So the reds are aged in a mixture of French and American oak. The red program has barrels that are no more than four years old with 30% of the oak being new each year. The exception to this is the port, which is aged in older than four-year-old oak.
After the wine is aged it is stabilized. Stabilization is a process by which the wine is made to be less likely to change under influence of high or low temperatures. Cold stabilization is achieved by bringing the temperature of the white wines down to about 26 degrees Fahrenheit for two weeks. Reds are not treated this way due to the unlikelihood the wine being kept at low temperatures. Protein stabilization is accomplished by the addition of a solution of Wyoming clay called bentonite into the white wines. As the bentonite settles through the wine it attracts the protein in the wine and clarifies. In red wine a slurry of egg whites, generally 5 eggs per 59 gallon barrel, is used with the same effect as mentioned above. Once stabilization is complete the wine is ready for bottling.
Since the terroir of the soil affects the wine, wines produced from different segments of the vineyard are kept separate. At this point in the wine making process, it may be decided to blend some barrels together, to bottle free run separately or blend it in. It may be decided that one varietal of red may benefit from a small blend of another. After much tasting, the bottling can commence.
“The earth the climate and the care of the vineyard, form the basic characteristics of a wine. In the winery it is the enologist and ultimately the palate of the winemaker that sculpt the new vintage.”